Davis speaks for workers

Yesenia Mendez, Staff Writer

The Los Medanos Connected series connected students to a zoom event by Speak Out, the Institute for Democratic Education and Culture, a non-profit organization that, according to their website; educates, inspires and empowers young people to become activists for social justice. 

Activist Angela Davis was the guest speaker who joined millions across the globe to celebrate and discuss International Workers’ Day May 1. To lift up the struggles for the eight-hour work day and to honor the 1880s, Haymarket martyrs were hanged to death in Chicago, Illinois. 

Angela Davis is an American political activist and professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She helped explore questions about bringing equal and economic justice to the United States. 

“This day is observed all over the world; in Palestine, Paris, Rojava, Uruguay, the Philippines and Lebanon, and of course it is an official holiday in most countries,” said Davis.  “But the United States has long stood with the adversaries of workers’ struggles so it’s not surprising that this is one of the few countries in the world where May 1st, International Workers’ Day, is not a holiday.” 

Davis spoke virtually from Oakland, California to the 74 LMC students that registered to hear her ideas and concerns. She explained that despite the devastating conditions spread by Coronavirus, people all over the world reflected on the long history of radical working struggles to defeat capitalism and the importance of supporting workers, especially under the life and death situations of essential workers these days. 

Protesters in a caravan gathered to shut down the Port of Oakland on Friday as part of the People’s Strike. They were protesting big companies such as Whole Foods, Instacart, Target, FedEx and Amazon.

“Workers from all of these companies are calling in sick or are walking out during their lunch break, in order to demand better working conditions, better safety and healthy conditions, time off work, hazard pay, and of course they want sick leave, protective gear, cleaner workplaces, disinfectant, sanitizer and cleaning materials,” said Davis. 

She encouraged people that if they wanted to support these workers, they shouldn’t cross the picket line.

“Support the people who are our most important workers, but who are paid less than most other workers and who work in the most unsafe conditions,” said Davis. “Nurses are also demonstrating all over the country. Scores of nurses have already died from COVID-19”

Davis explained that the Oakland demonstration was not only demanding protection for workers during the Coronavirus pandemic, but they are also demanding free healthcare and the release of all prisoners.

Yesenia Mendez
Davis spoke through Zoom to LMC students May 1 for a Speak Out event.

“We sometimes refer to these shelter-in-place conditions as ‘lock down’ and as someone who was once really in lock down, I know we can’t, in that way, minimize the conditions of women and men and gender nonconforming and trans-people in jails and prisons,” said Davis. “Lock down is really brutal. It is not exactly what we are experiencing in our various homes. Of course I should acknowledge that there are un-housed people that are also very hard-hit by this pandemic-crisis.” 

Davis continued that the origins of international workers’ day is found here in the United States in connection to the early trade union movement and the Haymarket Martyrs in Chicago. The importance of May 1, 1886  became the occasion for a general strike in support of the 8-hour work day. Thousands and thousands of working people demonstrated on that day. 

“We have experienced a major decline in union membership, largely as a consequence of the globalization of capitalism,” said Davis. “Before the onset of globalization, more than one-third of all workers in the U.S were members of unions. And today just a little of 10% of workers are union workers.” 

Davis explained that May Day was revived during the early part of this century as a day of protest and struggle by undocumented workers. They started this tradition of mass protests and marches on May 1, 2006 when millions of people from Latinx communities mobilized in support for undocumented workers and against repressive immigration policies.

“The point I’m trying to make is that undocumented people led the way towards a new era of workers’ struggles, the struggles of what we now call ‘essential workers’ who are on the front line during this health crisis,”  Davis said. “The front line workers are the healthcare workers, food workers, domestic care [and] attendant care workers. It is absolutely terrible that we had to have a global pandemic crisis in order to recognize that those who do the work … deserve recognition.”

According to Davis, essential workers are disproportionately people of color and low wage workers are always POC. That as service work and care labor increasingly constitute the labor of capitalism, it is women of color, who are on the front lines, fighting for their lives as capital attest to steal more and more of what they actually produce. 

“During this period I think many people have recognized how unequipped capitalism is to truly serve the needs of the people on this planet,” said Davis. 

Find more Equity and Inclusion events on their webpage.